In the first post in the series I identified the main risk factors that are likely to result in serious health issues in men.
Stress is becoming a great deal less gender specific in our modern age as we are all bombarded with dire news from around the world, we struggle with finances, jobs and relationships. However, men still appear to be most effected physically than women.
I usually approach my work from a three dimensional perspective when working with clients. Physical, mental and emotional. Women are more open to talking through their problems amongst themselves and this is a great stress release valve. Men not so much.
We have all heard the expressions ‘The Strong Silent Type’ and ‘Real Men Don’t Cry’ or ‘Man Up’. Unfortunately bottled up stress and emotions are not great for the body physically.
Raised blood pressure, over production of stress hormones leads to poor digestion and absorption of nutrients and if prolonged can lead to serious physical and mental health issues.
So part one today is a recap of stress and the effects on the body and if you recognise some of the symptoms then I suggest you read part two which I will post on Friday.
I have worked with Cathy Blackburn D.Hyp MIAPH for several years and asked her last year to put together a stress busting, self-hypnosis post. You will find it very relaxing and puts the control firmly in your own hands when faced with stressful situations.
In the third post on stress I have some breathing exercises that you can complete every morning and evening for five minutes a time that will help to increase the flow of oxygen to the entire body and also reduce stress.
You need stress in your life, does that surprise you? Perhaps so, but it is quite true. Without stress, life would be dull and unexciting. Stress adds flavour, challenge and opportunity to life. Too much stress, however, can seriously affect your physical and mental well-being. In recent years several high profile personalities have died suddenly and we recognise that most of them lived highly stressful lives, which finally took its toll. But how many times have we been surprised by the premature death of someone we know, a friend or family member, who on the outside seemed to be healthy and active with a good diet. Unfortunately, what is going on with major organs inside the body tell a different story. Stress is silent and can be deadly.
What causes a stress reaction?
Stress is the modern day equivalent of our ancestral ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that was necessary in the highly competitive and predatory world throughout our evolution. There may no longer be sabre-toothed tigers or mammoths in our world but the modern day alternatives can be just as daunting.
A threatening or tense situation triggers this stress response demanding that we take physical action. Unfortunately most modern day stress involves situations that we cannot run away from; such as relationship issues, a demanding job and boss and not forgetting the traffic jams on the way home.
There are two types of stress, Acute Stress and Chronic Stress, and both have very distinctive patterns.
Acute Stress is a short-term response by the body’s sympathetic nervous system and the response may only last for a few minutes or a few weeks. How many times have you said that your heart stopped or your stomach lurched during a moment of intense stress such as an accident? We have all heard stories of mothers and fathers who have been suddenly infused with superhuman strength and able to lift cars and other heavy objects off their trapped children. They are empowered to do this by the actions of their body in a moment of crisis.
Blood sugar levels rise and additional red blood cells are released to carry strength giving oxygen levels a boost. The pulse quickens, blood pressure rises and the digestive process stops to enable the focus to be entirely on regaining safety.
Chronic Stress is when this acute stress response is repeated on a continuous basis. Whilst the body, after a hundred thousand years, is well able to handle the occasional stress response and in fact uses it positively, if the response becomes a normal way of life, other parts of the brain and body become involved leading to long term damage.
For example, ongoing stress causes the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which are the master controllers for the body, to release a chemical called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which stimulates the adrenal gland to produce and release cortisol which disrupts sleep patterns leading to increased levels of stress. Our bodies are simply not designed to live at high alert for sustained periods of time; it just wears it down leading to illness.
How can we manage this modern day stress that is going to be a part of our lives in one way or another?
A major challenge in this stress filled world today is to make the stress in your life work for you instead of against you. Stress is with us all the time. It comes from mental, emotional and physical activity. It is unique and personal to each of us because we all handle it in a different way. So personal in fact that what may be relaxing for one person may be extremely stressful to another.
Too much emotional or mental stress can cause physical illnesses such as high blood pressure, ulcers or even heart disease, whereas physical stress from work or exercise is not likely to cause these problems. The truth is that physical exercise can help you relax and to handle your emotional and mental stress. Following a healthy diet that provides you with all the essential nutrients to help your body manage stress is even more important.
Symptoms of stress can be subtle such as fatigue, insomnia, depression, headaches, back or neck pain, irritability and sudden weight loss or gain. The less common but more damaging are heart palpitations, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, nausea, panic attacks, inability to concentrate and chronic fear.
Many people resort to stimulants such as smoking, alcohol or even drugs in the efforts to calm themselves down but in fact they are merely stoking the fires and increasing the levels of stress on the body, which can lead to disease.
A Word about Diet and stress
A healthy diet is absolutely necessary whatever lifestyle we have but if we are under excessive levels of stress then it becomes critical.
Make sure that you are hydrated. Dehydration is a leading physical cause of stress and you need at least 2 litres of fresh, pure water per day and more if you are on holiday or living in very hot climates.
There are some vitamins and minerals which the body needs to handle stress especially as during a stress interval the body will use up additional reserves of many nutrients. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables are necessary and here are a few of the particular nutrients that will help you handle the stress in your life.
- Vitamin A mops up the toxic residue of elevated stress hormone levels. (Liver, fish oils, butter, cheese, Free range eggs, oily fish and Beta-carotene that converts to Vitamin A from carrots, green leafy vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli, orange and red coloured vegetables such as apricots)
- Vitamin B1 improves your mood and is vital for nerve function. (Whole grains, seeds, peas, beans and nuts.)
- Vitamin B3 helps you regulate your sleep patterns. (Liver, brewer’s yeast, chicken, turkey, fish, meat, peanuts, whole-grains, eggs and milk.)
- Vitamin B5, better known as Pantothenic Acid, controls the action of the adrenal glands, which play a vital part in the stress response. (Liver, yeast, salmon, dairy, eggs, grains, meat and vegetables.)
- Vitamin B6 is essential for the manufacture of the brain chemical serotonin, which is also called the feel good chemical. (Potatoes, bananas, cereals, lentils, liver, turkey, chicken, lamb, fish, avocados, soybeans, walnuts and oats.)
- Vitamin B12 is necessary to help produce brain chemicals such as serotonin (dairy, eggs, meat, poultry and fish, for vegetarians in Miso and Tempeh both fermented soybean products)
- Vitamin C is one of those vitamins that is used up very quickly during a stress reaction and needs to be replaced immediately as a deficiency leads to increased levels of anxiety and irritability. Smokers should take in Vitamin C in their diet and under the supervision of a professional should also take supplemental Vitamin C. (found in all fruit and vegetables but best sources are blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cherries, grapefruits, guavas, kiwi fruit, lemons, parsley, peppers, rosehips, potatoes, tomatoes and watercress.)
Minerals necessary to help the body manage stress
Calcium helps you relax. (Dairy, sardines, canned salmon with the bones, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and soy products such as tofu.)
Magnesium works with calcium and also helps to reduce stress. (Whole grains, beans, seeds, wheat germ, dried apricots, dark green vegetables, soybeans and fish)
Chromium stabilises blood sugar levels that create stress. (Brewer’s yeast, onions, whole grains, shellfish, liver and molasses)
Don’t allow your stress levels today creep up on you unawares in 20 year’s time, deal with it today.